I am always slightly bothered when I hear someone talking about “entering full-time ministry,” or when someone says my daughter is thinking about going into “the ministry.” What people usually mean when they use these phrases is that someone is going to work for the institutional church in some way. Ministry is not a career. On a fundamental level, all followers of Jesus are called to full-time ministry. In fact, every follower of Jesus is called not only to full-time ministry but to a full-time life, a way of being human centered on Christ in every aspect of living.
As a parish pastor I’ve had the joy of seeing individuals open up their lives to God. The process of life change begins to happen, and these new committed disciples tend to be enthusiastic, excited, and eager to learn and grow. Yet, as they start to walk more intentionally on their spiritual journey, a fear hits them. It’s the same fear that I believe keeps many people from living life based on God’s perspective. That fear is perhaps best personified in the comments that a woman who was growing in her faith told me, “I’m afraid what God is going to ask me to do. I mean, like, I am going to have to go to Africa as a missionary?” Even folks who are hesitant to accept the reality of God understand that those who follow Jesus behave and act differently, or at least that they’re supposed to.
Much of American society is hostile to any kind of religious commitment, especially a Christian one. On the other hand there are parts of our society that see value in having a religious tradition and value system as a means to being a good citizen. The challenge for anyone who seeks to follow Christ, to live their life based on the divine perspective, is that authentic spirituality is contrary to both of these views. It’s acceptable to attend church weekly and have some basic moral principals you are committed to. Society can laugh at, or commend, this kind of commitment. The danger comes when society sees you basing all of the facets of your life on your Christian faith.
Yet, it is this total commitment to living life in Christ in your personal relationships, in your neighborhood, and at your workplace that is the defining mark of a healthy spirituality. A spiritually fit person is someone who has integrated all of the parts of his life into one unified whole immersed in the divine perspective. One of the darker parts of Christian history is the crusades. During the late Middle Ages, European armies attempted to conquer portions of the Middle East, especially the Holy Land. A requirement to be a crusader and a knight was that one be a Christian.
One of the marks of being a follower of Jesus is that you have been baptized by water. In a traditional baptismal ceremony a person has his or her entire body submerged under the water signifying the end of their old life and the beginning of a new life based on Christ. When many of the crusaders were baptized, they refused to submerge their sword arms. They knew that somehow being a Christian was inconsistent with the death that they would deal out with their swords. In my view, these individuals were not baptized at all. You can’t say yes to living the spiritual life and keep your working hand above the waters of baptism.
How about you? Is there a disconnect between your attendance at weekend worship and what you do during the week? In particular, is your job something that fits into the rest of your spiritual life? Do you see your work as your ministry? Could you see it as your primary way of serving God? These are difficult questions to ask because they often lead to the fear of what God might ask us to do. The reality is that everyone who follows Jesus is called to be a full-time missionary. For most of us we are called to be missionaries in our work places, schools, and local communities, not in Africa.